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Hardly a week goes by without a news story or research report into the growing use of social media across the Middle East. However, one of the most comprehensive studies on the subject was released just last week, authored by the Dubai School of Government’s Governance and Innovation Program.

The “Arab Social Media Report” (ASMR) provides some welcome quantitative analysis in a field often dominated by anecdote and hypothesis, and delivers a host of illuminating insights – for example, that Kuwaitis are the most active tweeters in the region.

I don’t want to go into much detail but highly recommend taking a closer look at the report.

But what does all this analysis mean for us, as we look to add value and wisdom to our clients in government and business?

Let’s have a quick look at the numbers…

The youth (15-29) are embracing social media most, which is unsurprising given that over half the population falls into this category. As stated in the report, “social media now infiltrates almost every aspect of the daily lives of millions of Arabs, affecting the way they interact socially, do business, deal with government, or engage in civil society movements.

However, one of the common mistakes that brands make as they move into social communications is to treat the discipline as a broadcast medium, rather than an interactive experience. This usually stems from a failure to listen to their audience, before wading in and talking at consumers.

This is where “Smart Listening” comes in – a practice that emphasizes a tailored approach to help understand chatter in the digital sphere and filter noise in the social realm. The ultimate objective of “smart listening” is to extract the relevant signals from online conversations and build business intelligence that supports outreach and engagement. This means that social media monitoring must be customised beyond simple keyword tracking. Keywords and hash tags must be tested and spam filtered, and topics must be drilled into to uncover subtopics and conversation drivers.

Another aspect of “Smart Listening” is to identify opinion drivers, or so called “influencers” and understand the ways they participate in, and shape, online conversations about brands, products or companies.

Simply counting mentions about your company or products provides you with that – numbers without context. At the very least these should be benchmarked against competitors and tracked over time. Numbers with no context will not provide any insight which is required to build a strategy – and this is where “Smart Listening” starts. By breaking down conversations and extracting detailed product and customer feedback, feedback on your company’s corporate social responsibility activities (CSR), how people perceive your company’s (reputation) and how your messages resonate with consumers, journalists, bloggers and analysts; is an approach which doesn’t neglect quantitative data but goes beyond it by adding qualitative analyses.

By identifying relevant topics, key drivers and influencers within the online conversation prior to starting your journey into the space of social media will help avoid any pitfalls, and the continuation of a sophisticated monitoring program will provide a company with valuable insights and allow for higher levels of audience engagement and business goals to be achieved.

Sebastian Troch, digital consultant, Hill+Knowlton AMEASCA

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The latest issue of Middle East Media Educator is out today, and a great read for those in the industry looking to get under the skin of local markets, media and communications trends.

This is the second annual issue under the MEME banner, published by Alma Kadragic (@Almakad) at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, and lives up to the expectations set by the first.

Katy Branson, Head of Technology for H+K Strategies in the UAE, has contributed an article exploring ‘Technology in Media and Communications: Catalyst, Enabler, or Driver of Change?’.

Here’s a snapshot of the article…

In today’s world of always-on connectivity, convergent communications and media  pervasiveness, it would be difficult to deny the pivotal role of technology in changing the shape of society in general and communications specifically. The ‘art’ of communication is unrecognizable in comparison to what our predecessors  had to go to in order to speak with relatives, friends and business contacts. And by predecessors, we do not need to search back far– just through one generation to the world in which our parents were raised is enough to ring the changes.

The question is whether it is the technology itself that is driving evolution in our communications environment. To what extent is the rate of technological change in communications media exerting a direct influence on aspects such as the need for regulatory change in the industry, creation of new media markets and spurring quite radical social change in the region…or should we be looking at social change from a different perspective?

 

…Turn to p109 of MEME to read on!

Close your eyes, and picture someone in their teens.  This person will, in all likelihood, possess technology it took you years (or decades!) to get your hands on.  He or she may regard the CD player as the ancient relic of a lost generation.  This person will not remember the global fears of the Y2K bug, but that’s just fine because they can read about it on their shiny new smartphone as they watch television on their laptop.  Congratulations – you’ve just met your new target audience.

In recent years, the term ‘Gen Z’ has become the industry’s new favorite catch-phrase.  While there is some debate as to who exactly falls under the category, it is largely accepted that if someone was born in the mid-nineties onwards, they belong to Generation Z.  The growing trend in the communications industry is to target this group of people, with some sports-wear brands opting to develop messaging exclusively for them.

The question at this point clearly becomes ‘why?’.  Why target a group of people who are fickle, are not independent, and do not have a regular stream of disposable income?  The answer is that brands should target Gen Z because of these traits, not in spite of them.

The indecisive and unpredictable nature of consumption among Gen Z-ers presents an opportunity for brands to reach new customers.  At such a young age, it is unlikely that teenagers have developed strong emotional ties to brands.  This means that brands have an opportunity to persuade teenagers to ditch their current preferences for new ones.

Some may argue that this generation does not have true purchasing power because they don’t have disposable income and because they must ultimately purchase through their parents.  It is crucial however to understand that possessing purchasing power does not necessarily mean one needs the money to exercise it.  By pressuring their parents, friends, and families, teenagers are able to direct money to the brands they most want to build their identities around.  Furthermore, there is a certain ‘coolness’ or nostalgia associated with the younger generation that the older counterparts crave.  By effectively selling to Gen Z, a brand can frame its communication strategies in terms that appeal to all age-groups.

We are seeing more and more brands target Generation Z in order to create a loyal customer-base for many years to come.  Of course, these arguments help us understand why brands should target Gen Z.  We will discuss how brands can carry out such a strategy with in a (near-)future post.

– Hasan Badwan, Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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For companies targeting enterprise buyers, particularly in the technology sector, analysts can be important influencers that are often left untouched by communications. However, in skipping this audience, a number of fruitful business opportunities can be left unexplored.

Several international analyst houses have increased commitment to the Middle East and Africa region over recent years, expanding their operations from sales offices to – in some cases – fully fledged research operations. This local presence is enabling analysts to build a closer focus on the fast-growing economies of the region rather than the Euro-centric view of years gone by.

From a company’s perspective, analysts offer opportunity to establish a reciprocal relationship that yields returns through building conversations over time. Analysts spend much of their day speaking to industry leaders with their eye on new trends; young start-ups that might be the next big thing; and government bodies that can influence the changing tides of investment. Sharing information about business success, direction and marketplace trends can be an astute investment if in return your conversation garners valuable insight from an industry expert.

And the discussion can be more detailed than that which might be shared with the media; these exchanges are not going into print. Instead, analysts are often reference points for companies considering big investments and weighing up potential suppliers, so the more they know about your business the better armed they will be in this conversation.

There is opportunity to partner on research and whitepapers on industry trends in the region, shedding new light on the economic and industry trends here, and contributing to knowledge development. Analysts can bring credibility to these reports through their position as independent experts, and offer another angle for driving coverage through the press with opinions to support business findings.

Bringing H+K’s expertise from around the world, where in many places analysts are a staple part of a technology engagement programme, we hope to see more involvement between companies and analysts in building the research and knowledge amongst industries across the region.

– Katy Branson, Head of Technology UAE at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

glob·al·i·za·tion [gloh-buh-luh-zey-shuhn] noun: worldwide integration and development

When you look up the definition of globalization, it’s hard to tell if it’s a positive or negative characteristic of the world we live in. On one hand, ‘worldwide’ means universal acceptance – international, wide-reaching; but on the other hand it denotes a common approach, impersonal, and collective.

For brands that can successfully reach across borders, globalization gives the opportunity to truly connect – especially in today’s digital age. And this is ‘everywhere, anywhere, and anytime’ connecting. With that can come highly sought after brand power, equity, and potential market dominance.

Today, a good idea, service, or offering can go global because people generally share similar aspirations, character traits, wants, and needs. Just ask the big names: Cola-Cola, Apple, and Starbucks to name a few. That said, is the world a single market, and can a one-size-fits-all concept satisfy everybody?

Firstly, the world is rich with cultures, values, and traditions, so why should we all buy into global brands? People not only want to feel like individuals, they want to feel special. It is therefore crucial that consumers feel organizations genuinely understand and care about their needs, interests, and happiness. Ultimately, if the consumer is happy and feels a connection, he or she is likely to become loyal to the brand.

So how do you make something global go local in order to make that connection?

Adidas, the global sports brand, invests millions of dollars every year to have international celebrities such as David Beckham as the face of their brand around the world. What it also does on a smaller scale is invest in local brand ambassadors to engage interest in the local market. They recognize that a 14 year old in Sao Paulo, Tokyo, Paris, Beirut, and Dubai may share an immense passion for football and dream of one day being the next Beckham. But they’ll also have a local hero – someone that can more easily identify with from their hometown. Again it’s the personal connection that matters.

What marketers, PR professionals, or even sales professionals should remember is that their product or service must always connect to the target audience culturally.

Take the global reality TV star, Kim Kardashian, one of the most followed celebrities to date. How can we make such an American icon relevant to the UAE and the women in the Middle East? Where are their shared passions and commonalities? In this instance it’s not finding out more about Kim’s life, but rather finding out more about what Kim likes about the Arab life.

The aim of strategic PR is not to gain brand awareness or exposure. It is about connecting to as many individuals as possible, no matter where they are or who they are. Next time you’re in Starbucks, ask why a global brand is making the effort to write your name upon your latte. That personal touch – that brand love – is what it is all about.

– Lama El Ali, Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies

Launched back in 2010, Pinterest went almost unnoticed by the tech press for almost a year, until early adopters suddenly realised that a site with millions of users had been seemingly created overnight.

Since then, Pinterest has grown out of pure devotion from a dedicated, mostly female (80% cite some stats) following, who enjoy “pinning” items onto their pin boards from around the web.

Unsurprisingly, the popularity of this social network has attracted significant brand attention, and some of the most established and emerging brands now have a presence on Pinterest (as well as Pin it buttons on their websites) by which they engage large and small audiences in different ways.

Here are three currently using Pinterest to great success:

WholeFoods

One of the first brands onto Pinterest, this organic food store has gained over 28,000 followers to date. Pinterest allows WholeFoods to curate images from across the web which help translate brand values to their audience – from community and environment to healthy eating and organic produce. It is important to note that WholeFoods are not promoting their products, rather an aspirational lifestyle.

Better homes and Gardens

Magazines perform well on Pinterest thanks to their good stock of images, editorial content and largely female following. A good illustration is Better Homes and Gardens. They also created a “Pin and Win” contest which called for contestants to create a board using images from BHG.com (via Facebook). They gained a huge amount of Facebook fans and email data as well as inbound links.

U.S. Army

Partly to level out the female sway of this platform, but mostly because it’s an excellent example of how an outwardly “non-Pinterest” brand can use the platform to its advantage, the Official U.S. Army page includes boards such as: “welcome home,” “army history,” and “humanitarian relief”.  While the audience is likely to be made up of Army wives and girlfriends, the U.S. Army is cleverly reaching out to an audience which they may not have been capturing before via other channels.

Opportunity and strategy

While the boards and messages look great, you may be wondering what other benefits exist for a brand on Pinterest. There are many – is the answer – from participation and brand evangelism to relationship building. Additionally, organic search engine visibility will be vastly improved (many brand Pinterst pages ranks above the Twitter pages in the search engine results illustrating Google’s algorithm preference for this platform). However, what brands such as Amazon are discovering is the opportunity to drive large amounts of traffic back to the pin’s original source (assuming the pinner found the image on your website) making it another channel to display your goods or services via valuable third party endorsement.

For brands, Pinterest has become very pinteresting indeed.

– Susan Clowes, Digital Consultant at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

Despite the existence of 22 Arabic speaking countries, Arab expats living around the globe, and a young internet savvy population in the MENA region, only 2% of content online is in Arabic. We live in an era where  smartphones and tablets are giving us access to online content virtually anywhere, yet no matter the geographic location, the info being consumed is predominately English content.

There are 350 million people in the Middle East region who speak Arabic, and we are seeing a push for Arabic content from Arabic speaking consumers.

And there are local government initiatives, such as that of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, whose office has announced a strategy to support the nurturing of the Arabic language. In Saudi Arabia there is a plan in place that addresses the pressing need for quality Arabic e-content.

The young and growing population of the MENA region, coupled with high internet penetration (estimated at 35-40%), and an increasing trend in mobile (87% mobile penetration) and smartphone  use has created a growing appetite for Arabic content online.  Regionally, the UAE has one of the highest instances of internet use with most people owning on average more than one smartphone.

The transition toward a unified “e-Arabic” has been developing in many forms, from international websites in the region emphasizing Arabic, to Google in Arabic, to an Arabic Twitter interface, to a grassroots initiatives campaigning for Arabic e-content.  Initiatives such as Taghreedat, supported by twofour54, are succeeding in creating Arabic e-content, working to improve Wikipedia in Arabic and create an Arabic Dictionary 2.0 of technical terms to serve the needs of the Arabic internet users who account for 3.3% of all users globally.

There is an undeniable movement toward the creation of Arabic content online, but the challenges lie in changing the user perception, getting people to think online in Arabic, and defining a unified e-Arabic platform of communication and information. In addition, this requires the development of Arabic terms not only to serve the average internet user but to create a regionally accepted e-Arabic for viable use in the developing, software, and translations sphere.

Arabic content is on the rise, but it remains to be seen is if the Arabizing of the internet will be skin deep or if it can take on a life of its own.

– Olivia Quinn, Senior Account Executive at Hill+Knowlton Strategies Dubai

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